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Published by The Haunted Poet
Issue #1, Copyright 2006

The Haunted Poet is a quality bi-monthly horror-themed magazine featuring stories, poetry, interviews, reviews and more. (Check out their web site here.) Interested in SKULLSHIFTER's dark imagery and lyrics, The Haunted Poet contacted the band for an interview for the magazine's debut issue.

HELLo, Skullshifter, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here and The Haunted Poet. Before we get into your CD: 'Here In Hell' Why don't you tell us the line up?

Tom: SKULLSHIFTER is: Tom Nolz, guitar & vocals; CJ Scioscia, lead guitar; J. McCaffrey, bass; Dan Davie, drums.

Could you give us a brief history of the band?

Tom: SKULLSHIFTER began around 2003 when I contacted CJ and asked if he'd be interested in working with me on some new original material. The ideas developed quickly and we realized that the stuff we were coming up with would defintiely be worth recording. CJ, Dan, J. and I had worked together in various combinations in a bunch of different bands and in other musical collaborations on and off for over half our lives, so it didn't take long for CJ and I to persuade the other guys to get involved with our new project. Once the rhythm section was onboard, we continued honing our ideas into complete songs and kept writing new ones all along the way. As of now we have written nearly 2 full albums of material and show no signs of slowing down.

Who thought of the cool name and why?

Tom: Besides metal, I'm very into vintage hot rods and muscle cars. A 'skull shifter' is a classic customizing touch which literally is an oversized skull-shaped knob on the end of the car's gearshift lever. Since the metal scene and the hot rod scene have so many common visual elements like skulls, flames, etc., I liked the idea of bringing the 2 together. Plus, there is a sort of double meaning to the name, in that our music may shift your perception as to to what metal can sound like these days. We defy the current trends in metal simply because we are what we are and we're not about to change. Anyway, we dig the name...and we're glad you do too!

What other bands where your biggest influences?

Tom: This is always a tough question to answer because our tastes are so diverse and reach so far back that none of us can point to any one thing and say 'that's where it all comes from.' Our musical identities are woven from bits of everything, from Black Sabbath to Pink Floyd to Rush to Trouble to Dead Kennedys to Overkill to Slayer to Tool and on and on. All of us have been totally immersed in every style of heavy music since we were kids, so what comes out of us when we write is just the natural distillation of all of those influences mixed together.

I really liked your CD, 'Here In Hell' which has three awesome tracks: I, Punishment, Engines, and Here In Hell. Each song was extremely heavy and very well recorded & produced. I think my favorite song was Engines. What kind of sound would you say Skullshifter has?

Tom: Thanks for the compliment! We chose the 3 songs on our ep from a group of 11 tunes that we had recorded between the summer of 2004 and spring 2005. We felt that each of these 3 tracks could stand on its own and represent distinctly different characteristics of the band, yet would still make a cohesive ep. Our sound is intentionally very dense and guitar driven, but with a strong rhythmic foundation. Engines is probably the 'catchiest' track, with strong hooks throughout. This song has been picked up on a bunch of mp3 sites and college radio stations, including local NJ favorite WSOU, so we're glad for that kind of exposure to new listeners. As for the recording, we are fortunate that CJ owns and operates a professional recording studio called Le Chateau Bow Wow in Watchung, NJ. We also use the facility as our rehearsal space. So not only did we feel perfectly at home in the studio environment, we didn't have to worry about how much time we needed to spend to get our performances as perfect as possible. Plus, CJ had the opportunity to tour with Napalm Death as a roadie, where he met and became friends with producer Simon Efemey. Simon lent his capable hand and considerable talent to mixing our ep, and the results speak for themselves. The combination of unlimited time in the studio, an expert producer and killer mastering really makes a difference.

The song 'Here In Hell,' seems to me like a song about revenge, is there a deep meaning to your lyrics?

Tom: The story behind this track focuses on a victim of abuse who returns years later to seek vengence upon the person who ruined his life. Ultimately he finds that while he is victorious in vanquishing the abuser, the damage he suffered can never be undone. All of my lyrics tell a story, with elements and ideas coming from events in my own life, the lives of people I've known, things I've seen in the news, movies, etc. Inspiration comes from all these different sources, then filters through my own mind and onto the paper. I feel the best lyrics can provoke emotion by connecting with something inside the listener that they can relate to on a personal level, and I strive to achieve that connection with every song.

I got my CD from a friend of CJ's, where can other people get a hold of this CD?

Tom: Our Here In Hell ep is available through the SKULLSHIFTER web site at www.skullshifter.com. The ep is over 15 minutes of music and comes professionally printed and fully packaged, containing lyrics, photos and more...all for only $5 including US shipping. You can also hear complete versions of 'Engines' from the ep and a new demo track called 'Strain' on our MySpace page at www.myspace.com/skullshifter.

Once people get a taste of 'Here In Hell,' Are there any plans for a full-length CD in the near future?

Tom: Definitely! The only questions are whether we can hook up with a label to put it out for us and what songs are going to be on it. We are currently shopping the ep around and considering offers, and in the meantime we're still writing new songs. We already have plans to get back in the studio in the fall to begin recording again.

Any tours lined up for this summer?

Tom: No, however we are looking to set up select shows in the tri-state area through the summer and fall.

Again thank you so much for talking with The Haunted Poet, do you wish to add any final thoughts or any messages for your fans?

Tom: As much as the internet and other venues make it easier than ever to get your name out there, it is also harder than ever to stand out above the crowd. We truly appreciate the efforts of The Haunted Poet and other zines for seeking out and helping up-and- coming bands like SKULLSHIFTER to reach a wider audience. Thank you all!


Published 11.27.05 by Nocturnal Horde
Conducted by Anders

I was litteraly blown away the first time I laid ears upon Skullshifter's debut EP "Here In Hell", 3 hard boiled tracks of the best old school crossover I had heard in a long time, still sounding fresh and very energetic. I simply had to hook up with the band, hailing from New Jersey, to get all my questions answered, and to my great luck, both guitarist CJ Scioscia and vocalist/guitarist Tom Nolz answered my questions, so all questions ended up being answered very thoroughly and all there is to know about the band is more or less to be read below here, together with some great info on their upcoming full lenght album.

Hi there, how are things as we speak?

CJ: Not bad at all, Anders. We're busy getting ready for a show this coming weekend (18 Nov) with fellow New Jersey thrashers Delian League and writing some new material.

Tom: Very good...excited about the great response from Nocturnal Horde and others in the underground metal press and looking forward to getting out live to promote our EP.

Will you please start of by introducing yourself and tell us why you create havoc with Skullshifter?

CJ: I'm CJ Scioscia, guitarist, and I don't create as much havoc as I used to.

Tom: Tom Nolz, guitar and vocals. For me, Skullshifter provides a means for turning all the negative energy that builds up inside into something creative and positive. And don't let CJ fool you, he cuts loose with the best of 'em!

A small introduction of the rest of the band as well, together with a bit about what they contribute to Skullshifter with will be great as well!

CJ: On drums is Dan Davie. Tom and I have played with him a lot over the years. He's a great drummer, one of my absolute favourites. As for bassist J. McCaffrey, we've all been friends with him for years. He's a dynamo. Dan & J. we're actually the rhythm section in a band called Chronic Breakjob for about a year (1996-1997), so they also have a history and good chemistry.

Tom: Each member of the band brings a ton of experience and creativity to the table. Since we've all known each other for so long, there are no personality problems and egos to get in the way. Our friendship keeps the foundation solid.

You released your debut mini CD "Here In Hell" earlier this year, how has it been received?

CJ: It's been 2 months since we put it out, and all I can say is that the overall response has been very positive.

Tom: Agreed!

What do you expect of the release?

Tom: We didn't know what to expect, especially since what we're doing goes against just about every current trend in metal. So far we're happy with what most people are saying.

How do you in the band feel about it?

CJ: I think I can speak for all of us in saying it's the best thing we've ever released.

Tom: That's true. When we started, that was the standard we set for ourselves. Just to dig deep and write the strongest and best sounding songs we could. This is the first time I can truly say that I achieved my goal.

What do you want to accomplish with the release?

CJ: It's a building block in the foundation, really. We hope it'll garner us enough attention to gain a solid fanbase and, possibly, a record deal.

Tom: When we started out on this project we didn't know how far we were going to take it. After writing a bunch of songs and playing live to people that didn't know us and getting a great response, we felt that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to put something out that people could get into all over the world. We hope to get the opportunity to secure the funds to put out a top-quality full length release sometime soon.

You are delivering a nice slap of old school crossover with quite a punch, how did you end playing that type of metal?

CJ: Ha, old school!! Well, that's where we hail from, actually.

Tom: Because our strongest influences are rooted in the earliest forms of metal, what comes out in Skullshifter is just natural to us. When CJ and I pick up our guitars, the riffs just come out more or less the way you hear them on the CD. We try not to over-think anything and go with what feels right. It comes from the gut.

Who are the main music writers in the band and how do you make the songs?

Tom: We've all shouldered the responsibility of writing music at this point. I'm good with just coming up with an idea and throwing it down on my home 4-track. J. is the same way. CJ is excellent at hearing something one of us has written and taking it to the next level and also coming up with stuff that the rest of us would never think of. Danny is great with arranging structures and coming up with original patterns and rhythms that become the foundation of some of our most distinctive riffs.

CJ: Chronologically, the initial batch of songs were written by Tom and myself. Dan made incredible contributions, though, when he got involved. J. is an integral part of the writing team now that he's on board. Tom's doing all the lyrics at this point.

Where do you find inspiration when you write music?

Tom: I'll hear an idea in my head or think of a particular rhythm, then try to remember enough of it to get it down on tape when I get home. Since we all have day jobs, it isn't easy to capture the ideas as soon as we get them! We also get inspired when we're just jamming around at rehearsal. Some great ideas come from those times when we're just letting loose.

Do you have to be in a certain mood when you make music, or does it just come to you?

Tom: As I said above, you never know when the mood will strike, but keeping an open mind really helps. Metal is in our blood, so the feelings that trigger inspiration are always there, no matter what we're doing at the time.

Can you pull out 3 bands and songs that have meant a lot to you and your way of playing/making music?

CJ: Limiting it to 3 is tough, but here goes... Voivod, Candlemass and Trouble (you can't mention one without the other) and Rush - specifically the "A Farewell To Kings" and "Hemispheres" albums. OK, I have to sneak in Pink Floyd and Napalm Death as well. That's way more than 3... oops.

Tom: Like CJ and the other guys, my list goes on and on. I'm not that interested in learning or playing what my favorite bands have done, so what comes out in my writing is just a mixture of everything I've listened to over the years. My favorite bands include Overkill, Trouble, Rush, Pro-Pain, The Haunted, Judas Priest, Kiss... pretty diverse.

CJ: Wow, I forgot Overkill. We've seen them so many times over the years, all the way back to their demo days.

The lyrics and vocals seems to be a big part of the band, how important is the lyrics compared to the music?

CJ: Equally important. Tom has a lot to say.

Tom: I never really thought of it that way. To me, all the elements are equal and should support each other. Almost always, the music is written first. Then the lyrics develop based on the mood I get from the music. I do have a tendency to write a lot of words for each song, mainly because I like the lyrics to tell a complete story. Much like you'll find in songs by Rush.

Do you have a message for your listeners and what is it?

Tom: Though the lyrics deal with a lot of dark subjects, I'd say the overall message is to be strong and to face the difficulties and challenges in life head-on and try to come out of it with something positive. It's all about channelling the negatives into something better.

Where is the inspiration for the lyrics found?

Tom: My lyrical ideas come from everywhere... personal experiences, people I've known, movies, art, everything. I try not to get involved as much with world events and politics, but focus more on how those things make me feel. I'm an artist/designer as well, so I've always been an observer of the world around me and I like to try to paint a visual picture with my words and communicate ideas.

Will you please go through the 3 killer tracks on "Here In Hell" and tell us how they were made, the content of the lyrics, how the inspiration came etc...?

Tom: These 3 songs came along at different points in the writing process with other ones in between. We selected these 3 for the EP because we felt they presented some of the diversity in our writing and because each song can stand strongly on its own outside the context of an album.

As far as the content of the songs goes, 'I, Punishment' is about 2 people that find each other in a random way and develop an obsessive -- and ultimately destructive -- relationship. 'Engines' deals with the insanely fast pace and stress of modern life. 'Here In Hell' is a tale of revenge, a fantasy about what it could feel like to turn one's pain and suffering into the inspiration for retribution. I try not give any answers in my lyrics, only show one possible path that a person could take in a certain situation. I want listeners to be able to identify with the story and see it from their own perspective.

You have gotten the material on "Here In Hell" mixed by Simon Efemey, why did you choose such an ambitious move from the start?

CJ: In short, I worked with Simon when I was a roadie for Napalm Death in 2004 here in the US. I struck up a friendship with him and asked if he'd be interested, and he said yes. I mentioned this to the guys when I got back from the tour, and they thought it was a great idea. When we decided to release an EP first that allowed us to bring in Simon. If we went with a full-length we wouldn't had enough money to have him mix it. He was able to get a good deal for us at Chapel Studio. We then sent him the tracks and he did his thing.

Tom: We were very fortunate to be able to get Simon involved, and if it wasn't for CJ's touring experience with Napalm Death, it probably wouldn't have happened. We always wanted to make the best sounding recording possible, and when we found out that Simon was interested in helping us, we knew that fate was telling us there was no other way to go.

Are you satisfied with his work on the mix?

CJ: ABSOLUTELY!!

Tom: 100%!

How did you end up with the band name Skullshifter, what does it mean to you?

Tom: In addition to my life-long love of metal, I am a car fanatic as well. Specifically hot rods and American muscle cars. I was watching on of those car building TV shows one night and they installed a 'skull shifter' on a 1932 Ford hot rod. At that moment, I knew that Skullshifter had to be our name. There is something raw, powerful and rebellious about those old cars and I think that we're the same way. I also like the double meaning of it, in that our music may change one's mindset about what heavy metal can sound like in the year 2005.

The same can be asked about the album title "Here In Hell" what does it symbolize and what are your thoughts behind it?

Tom: "Here In Hell" is symbolic of the daily struggle of getting through life when you have no choice but to take on everything that comes your way and find a way to survive. It's about dealing with forces beyond your control and never giving up the fight.

When will we hear more material from you, what will your next output be and have you been approached by any interested labels yet?

CJ: Well, the other 7 songs from the album sessions are basically in the can. There's a few solos left to do, and then the mixdown. No exact date has been put aside for the album's release. We have not shopped "Here In Hell" to labels yet, so no offers.

Tom: Now that the EP is out and we're getting some good feedback, we hope that some label will be interested in helping us make the next step to a full album. We wanted to concentrate on getting the word out first, so like CJ said, we haven't shopped anything yet. We're not in any hurry, so we are willing to wait until the time feels right and the right offer comes along.

Are you working on new material, do you have some good news in form of song titles, directions etc...?

CJ: The remaining 7 tunes from the album are as follows: 'Exploiter'; 'Etched In Sand'; 'Day In The Sun'; 'Enemy'; 'Positively Negative'; 'Breaking Point'; and 'Forward Rearview'. We have one song that was not recorded, entitled 'Spiders'. There are also 3 new songs at this point, but only one - 'Strain' - has lyrics. We'll be busting that one out live for the first time at this upcoming gig.

Tom: You can be sure of one thing -- there's a lot more good stuff in our hands! While we feel the EP is strong, a full album will better showcase what we do best. Our latest songs are already sounding heavier and darker, so we'll have much to choose from when it comes time to do the full-length CD.

How do you look upon the future of Skullshifter and what can we the fans expect of it?

CJ: The plan is to continue to write tunes that we dig. If it feels right then that's good enough for us.

Tom: We want to reach as many metal fans as possible with our music. Some will like it, others won't. We have no thoughts about trying to please anyone but ourselves. As long as we continue to push ourselves to the limit of our abilities, we'll be satisfied. If people get into it, that's even better.

Will you share your 5 all time favourite albums with the readers of Nocturnal Horde?

Tom: Here's 7 off the top of my head:

Kiss - Alive!
Trouble - Trouble and Manic Frustration
Overkill - Feel The Fire and Years Of Decay
Judas Priest - Unleashed In The East
Rush - Permanent Waves

CJ:

Death - Symbolic
Deep Purple - Made In Japan
Napalm Death - Enemy Of The Music Business
Obituary - Cause Of Death
Pink Floyd - Animals

Thanks a ton for answering my questions, if you have anything to add, feel free to add it now!

CJ: Thank you for the interview, Anders!! Hopefully everyone will be hearing our debut full-length album, "Inner Demons", in short order.

Tom: Thanks again for your support and the support of your readers!

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